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Farewell, ‘Dictionary of American Regional English’ — but Keep in Touch

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Frederic Cassidy (right), first editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, with students who helped compile it by recording Americans in the field. (Photo courtesy of U. of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, 1965)

During half a century of painstaking research that gradually brought the Dictionary of American Regional English into being, its staff, friends, and benefactors have found many occasions to celebrate its progress, volume by volume starting in 1985 and ending just a few years ago with the publication of the final Volume 6, accommodating some 60,000 words that are often missing from other dictionaries because they are used only in parts of our vast nation.

Oh, and then it has gone online.

What a difference DARE  has made in our knowledge of the way Americans talk — and used to talk — in all 50 states! Joan Hall, chief editor for the last three volumes, enumerates: “We’ve produced six print volumes, a digital version, an updated and corrected digital version, and a massive collection of audio recordings that are now publicly available.”

The sad news is that, after many years of generous grants to keep its print and then its online versions going, the eleemosynary support has just about disappeared, and editorial operations will have to cease around the end of 2017. But the good news is, so much remains available for research and the sheer pleasure of enjoying the variety of our language. And so they are holding a party next month in Madison, home of DARE  at the University of Wisconsin.

And you can keep in touch, because the findings of DARE remain readily available to scholars and the public. The six paper volumes are just the beginning. DARE is now available, and readily searchable, in its online version, for just $49 a year to individuals, from its publisher, Harvard University Press.

And oral recordings of the numerous individuals interviewed for DARE — by field workers who traveled all over America in “word wagons” outfitted with tape recorders (see photo above) — remain available at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Libraries Digital Collections Center.

And it’s not necessarily a complete end. Chief Editor George Goebel may find it possible to continue electronic upgrades, at least occasionally. “Our website will stay available,” Hall says, “though updates will be less regular.”

When they show up, you can be sure you’ll learn about them right here.

P.S. If you somehow hadn’t heard about the closing of DARE, Jesse Sheidlower’s recent New Yorker article will give you the (almost) whole story.

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